Part one of this book is set in Moscow in the 1930's. A couple of guys are out and about and they run into a stranger who tells them a short narrative from the perspective of Pontius Pilate and tells one of them he's going to die. Then one of them abruptly dies and the other goes mad. The rest of the first chapter is the stranger's three entertaining minions wreaking havoc on Moscow, stealing the dead guy's apartment for the stranger and driving people mad. The first guy who goes mad meets his neighbor in the asylum, a man only called the Master (cue Doctor Who joke re: sound of drums). The Master wrote a poorly received manuscript about Pontius Pilate (the story we first heard?) and went mad when it was roundly (and publicly?!) rejected by all the critics.
Now I have to say, I was skeptical about part one. It is very hard to keep track of who is going mad and who is being persecuted by the stranger's henchmen. Also, no sympathetic characters have really shown up except the mad poet and the Master, and we don't see a ton of either of them as there are so many characters with long Russian names having their lives entertainingly ruined by the minions. One of whom is a talking cat named Behemoth. So extra points for Behemoth.
However, part two is worth it, as it is much more straightforward. Here we really meet Margarita, who was mentioned by the Master in part one. She is unhappily married and in love with the Master, who is still in the asylum after burning his manuscript. She has saved what she could of his manuscript and still pines for him. The
And just for kicks: